Concorde Fire U-15/16 Clinches Development Academy Playoff Berth
ussoccer.com: Congratulations on a successful regular season so far and on qualifying for playoffs. Tell us about your experience in the Southeast Division.
Gregg Blasingame: “For all intents and purposes, we front loaded our season because we have high school in the spring time. So we only have one game remaining and then there are playoffs. For us, it’s been a good season. It was a little hectic in the beginning. I think the kids came into the season fit and ready to play and fortunately for us we got some good results in the beginning and as the season progressed I think teams started to make adjustments which then just made the games much more competitive. Overall, it was a good season with good competition. The overall competition in our division every year has progressed and everybody is putting their A game on now and the competition is getting much fiercer. It’s good to see.”
ussoccer.com: How do you plan out your season? There are obviously going to be different things that pop up as you go, but last summer or fall, when you were looking ahead, what was your approach?
GB: “For us we know that we had a window there in the beginning from September until before Christmas that we had to get all our games in. High school soccer in Georgia is a little more drawn out and they start their training in the second week in January and they go all the way through the first week of May. It’s an extended season to begin with and for the most part we can’t overwork the kids. They’re already training with high school every day, two to three hours a day. There is no way you can expect them to keep up with their academics and still be able to attend two practices, it just would be asking too much. We pretty much shut it down after Christmas until the first or second week in May and I think that’s the other reason why we have a very hectic schedule and carrying a larger roster helps us out because you’re bound to have injuries when you’re having games on the weekends and you’re having your training sessions throughout the week. Our coaching definitely has to be a little different than teams that have an abbreviated high school season and they can stretch their season out a little longer.
“We may do a session on the weekends depending on the high school playoff schedule as long as we can space it out well enough so the guys get enough rest as opposed to just overworking them going into the playoffs. Then once we hit May, it’s pretty much got to be full throttle because to be fair even though they’re playing high school ball, their fitness drops dramatically and we’ve got to get them to peak into June and that doesn’t leave us a lot of time.”
ussoccer.com: Do you think it benefits the players on the team having the experience of going to the playoffs quite frequently, so they know what to expect when they come back in May?
GB: “I think the guys have that routine down pretty well. I know we feel very fortunate that we’ve been to Finals Week as much as we have. The culture itself continues to be a driving force. The kids say, ‘hey I want to do what last year’s U-18s did.’ From a coaching standpoint, I’ve been in the Academy all four years so my expectations also are heightened. We’ve got to go ahead and push to get at least one of our teams to Finals Week and playoffs is once again a definite bar we’ve set for all of the kids. They understand we want to try to instill that tradition every year. It gets harder every year because these other clubs are doing such a great job with their staff and their players and their curriculums are just that much better so everyone is constantly trying to push the envelope when it comes to the end of the season.”
ussoccer.com: We’ve heard coaches say that players often learn more from a loss than a win. How do you motive your players to continue to learn and get better when the team is winning?
GB: “We definitely talk about development and we speak about that all the time. That’s one of the Federation’s biggest initiatives and I think all of the coaches and the associations are doing that with the kids. Each one of those players has individual areas they obviously need to work on so as coaches you’re breaking the team down tactically but individually you’re pushing each individual’s development too as far as their technical side and making them a better player. On the flip side, there’s something to be said for winning. I think winning is a critical component to development. I think when the kids win games it becomes important for them to want to continually get better. I think that’s why winning is critical. Nobody likes to lose and the more you win the more that drive just feeds off of itself. That’s what we tell our kids. If you want to continue to win and continue to make the playoffs then this is something you’re going to have to do is keep training harder and harder as opposed to letting your foot off the gas and say ‘hey we’ve arrived.’ “
ussoccer.com: Now you’re going to the playoffs and you’re going to play in high pressure games and have the chance to go to Finals Week where the pressure gets kicked up even higher. How does that environment lend itself to player development?
GB: “We talk about trying to recreate game-like scenarios in training and obviously that’s why you want the intensity to be a regular component of the training session. You do your best to recreate that intensity in the training sessions so when game time comes you’re accustomed to it and you can handle it and deal with it because you’ve been training this way day in and day out. On the flip side, no matter how hard we try to recreate that in a training environment, when you get the call to play in Finals Week and the playoffs, it’s just something you’re never ever really going to understand until you’re put in that scenario. When you’re put in that scenario as a player once again you take your game to another level just because your familiarity with a level that you probably haven’t been at. I think for us, we’ve got to do as good of a job as we can to make the practice environment as competitive and intense as we can so when we do get the opportunity to go to playoffs and Finals Week, we capitalize. That’s our job as directors and coaches to make sure that we don’t let the kids down with the environment we’re putting them in.”